Monday, December 12, 2005

Meteorites and lots of ice

Have you ever wondered how they find meteorites in the Antarctic? Perhaps you heard about the Martian Meteorite they found a bunch of years ago? The annual ANSMET search team is on the ice and they have a blog to keep you up to date on their progress this season. Two of the team members this year have worked or still work at LPL at the UofA - look for mentions of Jani and Oz.

The Antarctic is a great place to find meteorites because the glaciers cover most of the rocks natural to the area. Meteorites land randomly on the face of the Earth, but in the Antarctic, they land on the ice and there are places that are especially good because the ice flows into areas and evaporates leaving a higher concentration of meteorites. And the meteorites they find there are preserved better than many other places on Earth thinks to the arid climate. The ANSMET team spends around 6 weeks out on the ice living and searching. They have to watch out for crevases as well as meteorites and hopefully will find the meteorite. Working in the Antarctic is probably a lot like it will be to live and work on the Moon and Mars in the future. You're far from home and living under relatively hostile conditions. Sounds like fun!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Apollo 17

It was 33 years ago today that the Apollo 17 lunar module Challenger, piloted by mission commander Gene Cernan made the final lunar landing of the Apollo program. Challenger carried the first professional Geologist, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt to the surface of the Moon. Four hours after landing, Cernan and Schmitt climbed out of the LM to begin the first of 3 EVAs (ExtraVehicular Activity) outside their temporary home on the Moon.

I remember watching the mission with great interest, having the guidebook "On the Moon with Apollo 17" in hand and ready to watch the 7 hours of each of the 3 planned EVAs. Unfortunately, the TV networks did not carry the EVAs - walking on the Moon had become an event not worth full coverage. Challenger landed in the "Taurus-Littrow Valley", a mare like plain between massive mountains on the southwest margin of Mare Serenitatis. The site was chosen in part because of observations by the Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Al Worden. He had observed dark halo craters in the valley during his flight which suggested the possibility of lunar volcanic activity. As it would turn out, the dark halo craters were simply impact craters which excavated a darker subsurface material laid down billions of years ago when the basin originally formed.

Apollo 17 set records for distance traveled on the Moon (thanks to the Lunar Roving Vehicle), weight of samples returned, EVA duration and lunar stay time. It's hard to believe it's been 33 years. I remember then thinking about Man's future in space that I would be too young to be the first person to set foot on Mars - the first Manned Mars landing was projected for 1986! We went so far in the 1960s and early 1970s. We are just now talking about taking longer strides and going back to the surface of the Moon and on to Mars.